For a year or two, I saw Chris Soda probably more than any other person I didn't live or work with. He was that ubiquitous downtown. I knew it was him because he never touched his handlebars. He really should've just forgone the whole front end of his bike; every part of the bike north of the seat tube was unnecessary for that guy. Just give him some pedals and a wheel, and he'd rip through traffic unharmed.
|Photo Credit: gwadzilla|
But he was also a bike racer. I saw him peel off the front end at the last-ever Turkey Day and win what he thought was the race, but was actually the one-lap-to-go non-finish line. He crossed the line with his hands off the bars and kept them off as the pack rode by and, after the pack finished he rolled in, arms still straight at his sides.
Last year Jay Moglia told me about how Soda fell while riding out at Lost River, and how Chris kept working on getting back on the bike. I started seeing him around town again, now with his hinds firmly gripping his bars.
I don't know if there are any bike messengers left anymore. I don't really see any. But I started seeing Chris everywhere again, and always on his bike. I'm not sure if he was carrying pieces of paper for anyone, or just trying to get back to where he once was--a place where he could ignore an entire hemisphere of his bicycle that the rest of us use to prop up our weary carcasses.
I don't know if we'd have connected, but there was something about seeing the guy that I loved. Maybe he, floating like a cloud through the DC streets with the greatest of ease, was doing what I, wolfing down a sandwich on my lunch break, wished I could do.
There's a Robert Frost line in which he questions why bad things sometimes seem to happen by design: "what but design of darkness to appall?"
I feel this way about Chris. He endured a series of setbacks that suggest the world is not only uncaring, but out to get us.
On the bright side, there were people there trying to help him: Jay and Audrey of Raw Talent and guys like gwadzilla and Chris Rabadi.
For a guy like Chris, it was probably hard to accept the help, not to mention the misfortune.
One clear Fall day last year I saw Chris swoop by up the yellow line between rush hour traffic, arms hanging straight down at his sides, smooth and confident as he was before his accident. The front half of his bike was, once again, deadweight.
He looked happy.
I don't understand the idea of life after death. I do believe in empathy. I think we do better if we think about Chris. And, at least sometimes, maybe we let go of the handlebars for a bit and hope he's out there somewhere, riding with no hands.